Amsterdam is beautiful. Even (maybe especially) in October: leaves change color, the weather is crisp, cool, and, if you’re lucky, dry. But the best reason to go is to see the six-day race. Yes, there’s all sorts of touristy stuff to do during the day, and all sorts of trouble to get into during the night, but you kind of like bike racing, or maybe you just like watching stuff go fast, so you decide to head down to the track to see what all of the fuss is about.
Is it too mundane to talk about the trip there? The Amsterdam Velodrome is located in the south-west corner of the city, not far from the Schiphol airport. Obviously, you should have rented a bike, but maybe you forgot, or maybe you couldn’t find a rental bike in Amsterdam because you ran out of your disposable contact lenses/you are legally blind/and also a bilateral AE amputee, which is the only reason not to be able to swing your arms and hit a bike rental shop in the Dutch capital.
Anyway, the point is, if you had rented a bike it’s a sweet, easy 8km ride from the center, all in bike lanes (it’s hard to not find a bike lane in this country) with no one to bother you except the aforementioned motorbikes. If you’re taking the tram, you have to get off at the Kasterleepark stop near the end of the line 2 tram. The only challenge is to walk through the worst kind of strip-mall suburb. I’m not exaggerating.
Built inside an old factory, the track feels like it barely fits inside the structure. But the low ceiling makes it all the more intimate, and if you sit in the front row you can feel the wind as a group of riders flies by.
(The track, calm before the storm.)
But that doesn’t matter! You’re here, and it’s all good. You roll in the door, and the first guy you see is Lex van Deijl. Or maybe it’s his wife; she’s selling tickets, and he’s working the door, organizing people, chatting with retired derny drivers, smoking, and he’s been doing that since eight in the morning, he tells you. You (okay, me) wave at the coat-check staff, because you already got a reputation for being the last one out the door the night before, and they remember stuff like that. There seem to be two more of them working than is really necessary, but you’ve never seen coat-check staff smile so much.
Sure, it’s early, but you can find your seat and as the program gets going.The juniors have just finished, and the night starts as every night starts, with each team of two being introduced to the crowd, taking a lap under the spotlight. There’s no pause before the first Madison starts, and it’s chaos: 24 men on a 200m track, slinging themselves into and out of the action. The announcer starts getting excited as a pair attacks, trying to lap the field, and a foghorn blasts as they catch the group from the other side. The 90 laps go by quickly, and before you know it the crowd is cheering as the bell rings for the last lap. The racer sitting in third position slings his partner to do the last two turns, perfect timing to come around and win the sprint.
There’s a brief pause in the action, but not in the show, as the winners accept their flower bouquets and take a victory lap. One of the racers (Nick Stöpler, this time) stops to give his flowers to a woman in the crowd:
And, of course, it totally makes her night.
All that watching other people sweat has made you thirsty, so you head to the infield to grab a beer and watch the Miss n’ Out. What a great event; the teams compete Madison-style, and every three or so laps, the last one across the line is eliminated. The announcer manages to explain this to the eliminated teams in their own language (‘Ciao! Basta! Buona sera!’ he says to Marco Zanotti, as if the Italian hadn’t noticed himself being boxed in on the final drag to the finish line). And of course the barman remembers you, because you were talking football with him last night. Hopefully it’s because you were talking football with him; being remembered by a bartender is great, as long as you know why.
As you return to the stands to join your friends, who came up from Belgium to watch Jasper de Buyst race:
(Thankfully, they brought an extra pink hat along for me, otherwise I wouldn’t fit in.)
Next up is the flying-start time trial. Each team does two laps, with a Madison throw in the middle, against the clock. As the riders circle the top of the track, the crowd starts cheering, the music gets louder and louder, blasting “Simply the best” each time a new fast time is set. This is, by far, the most exciting time trial you’ve ever seen.
(Niki Terpstra, sharing the track for once, with partner Yoeri Havik.)
Just as the awards ceremony finishes, the derny drivers start to lap the track, and the smell of exhaust starts to fill the velodrome. The DJ comes over, because this is a break for him; no one could hear his music over the noise of the dernies. And he remembers you, too, and fortunately there’s no hard feelings, despite your attempts to convince him to play requests the night before. He’s still shell-shocked from seeing the previous night’s crash, but you still manage to gossip about the London six-day race next year.
(Twelve men on a track go fast, but it’s goes even faster if you put six of them on motor bikes.)
The derny racing is impressive, the strategy is totally different than any other event, and all of this at 62 km/hr. But even above the buzzing of the motors, you can hear the crowd getting excited as the racers position themselves to attack in the final laps.
Next up is the Keirin. As long as the dernies are already warmed up, might as well, right? Six racers jockey for position behind the derny as it makes its rounds, pulling off two laps before the line, signalling the start of a group dash to the line.
(And they say that Dutch people don’t queue. Pff!)
The evening closes with the second Madison race, which must hurt worlds more after three hours of racing. And tomorrow, the whole entourage will close up, hopefully get some sleep, and get ready to do it again the next day. So, for that matter, will you.